Happy goes exploring – Part 1

Who is Happy you might ask?  Some of you already know her … she’s a friend of a young lady from Wilmette, Illinois named Kate (what a great name don’t you think??).

Happy relaxing after a hard day's sightseeing

Happy relaxing after a hard day’s sightseeing

Kate’s fifth grade teacher thought it would be fun for the class to learn about the world so all the kids sent their Happy friends off on a journey, hoping to hear from them along the way.  Through my friend Alison, Happy has accompanied me on my travels this year, but this is the first time Happy is appearing on the blog – wow!  Happy should really be en route back to Illinois as it is coming to the end of the school year, but instead (young) Kate decided Happy should stay on her travels and continue to send greetings from more parts of the world.  So here goes. It’s a challenge getting around here in Dhaka due to the difficulties arranging transportation, me not speaking Bangla and the bureaucracy & negotiations that is needed to get into any building!  So I decided to bite the bullet and book  myself on another tour …. it made it much easier. Our first stop was the National Parliament Building, but due to security restrictions, we could not enter the grounds or the building.  I was pretty disappointed with that as I was dying to be able to tell a great story to Mike Epp and Alicia Lesniak – the only two architects I know who would be interested in the details. Louis Kahn, a famous US architect, designed this building based on Bangladeshi heritage & culture, the light and water being key themes.  Remember Bangladesh is in the Ganges delta, so the light is unbroken by mountains and there is water water water everywhere. The project started in 1961 by the President of Pakistan, halted during Bangladesh’s fight for independence (which they won in 1971) and the building was finally completed in 1982.    The photos of the building are amazing, and I would have loved to have spent a chunk of time there, but alas, it was not meant to be.  Check out this link for more information on the Bangladesh’s National Parliament Building.

Happy with Setu, our guide outside the National Parliament Building .... from the fence

Happy with Setu, our guide outside the National Parliament Building …. from the fence

Next up, we visited the Dhakeshwari Temple, that National Hindu Temple of Bangladesh and I must say, looking very different to any Hindu temple I saw in Nepal.

The four unusual mini-temples of Dhakeshwari Temple

The four unusual mini-temples of Dhakeshwari Temple

The main temple with ceremonial drum to call people to prayer

The main temple with ceremonial drum to call people to prayer

One man praying before the Goddess Durga

One man praying before the Goddess Durga

Pond in the Dhakeshwari Temple grounds, in use by the locals.  It will be brimful to the highest steps come monsoon.

Pond in the Dhakeshwari Temple grounds, in use by the locals. It will be brimful to the highest steps come monsoon.

Happy at Dhakeshwari Temple, with Setu our guide

Happy at Dhakeshwari Temple, with Setu our guide

There is dispute as to when it was built and by whom, but given the design and it’s heavy Arakanese influences, it’s thought it was designed by the son of a Myanmar King in the 1600s .  There is no dispute that the temple is the home to the Goddess Durga and Setu, being a practicing Hindu himself, holds this temple in high regard. He told me there are no sacrifices of cocks or water buffalo at all here in this temple, unlike in Hindu temples in Nepal.  But for festivals, goats are sacrificed. Next up was a break for tea.  I have discovered the Bangladeshi probably drink more tea than the Irish.  Setu admitted to drinking about 15 cups a day (reminds me of my coffee addiction all those years ago).  We went to Setu’s local tea stall, he was born and grew up in this area so I opted to go to his local tea stall, even if it was a little out of the way.  Nothing like the real thing. The milk tea in Bangladesh is different to the Nepalese milk tea.  In Nepal, a black tea is mixed with spices, loads of sugar and milk, boiled and then strained into the cup.  Sort of like chai with a subtle difference – the spices are different for sure.  Here in Bangladesh, the milk tea is made with a red tea mixed with boiled water, condensed milk is stirred in with copious spoons of sugar (goodness, waaaay too sweet!). Fortunately, they also make a ginger tea which is made of the red tea, boiled water with chunks of fresh ginger.  I skipped the addition of sugar.  We stood around with a few of the locals drinking our tea.  Needless to say there were many people who came up to me just to stare, take in my pale skin and mu height (I feel a giant and I am only 5′ 7″).  Setu did not get much of a break, having to explain who I was and what the heck I was doing at his local tea stall.

The tea stall.  It's tiny as you can see.  It's owned by a lady who was not there that day, her son was doing the serving instead.  He balances on his hunkers making the tea.

The tea stall. It’s tiny as you can see. It’s owned by a lady who was not there that day, her son was doing the serving instead. He balances on his hunkers making the tea.

Preparing the fresh ginger for my tea

Preparing the fresh ginger for my tea

Pouring the red tea into the glasses

Pouring the red tea through a strainer into the glasses.  The leaves for the red tea are rolled into balls, hence the need to strain.

The end result, my ginger tea - delish!

The end result, my ginger tea – delish!

Vigorous stirring of the condensed milk into the red tea, to make milk tea.

Vigorous stirring of the condensed milk into the red tea, to make milk tea.

Ingenious way to drain the water and split tea off the preparation tray.

Ingenious way to drain the water and split tea off the preparation tray.

Preparation of a betel leaf - the betel nut is grated, mixed with water and the paste smeared onto a leaf.  The leaf with the betel paste is chewed.  Also sold are single cigarettes with one go of the lighter plus a mint sweet to clear the breath - how civilized!

Preparation of a betel leaf – the betel nut is grated, mixed with water and the paste smeared onto a leaf. The leaf with the betel paste is chewed. Also sold are single cigarettes with one go of the lighter plus a mint sweet to clear the breath – how civilized!

There is always chat with tea

There is always chat with tea

And this photo is for Peter Noble who was in awe of the loads the Nepalese porters used to carry along the trails.  This is a painted wrought iron door that is being delivered to it's new owner ... by rickshaw!

And this photo is for Peter Noble who was in awe of the loads the Nepalese porters used to carry along the trails. This is a painted wrought iron door that is being delivered to it’s new owner … by rickshaw!

After our break, we headed off to see the Khan Mohammad Mirza Mosque in Old Dhaka.  Setu had to call out for someone to unlock the gate to let us in.  Shoes off on the street before we entered the gate.  Feet and face washing stations were to the right of the mosque.  The mosque itself is raised with I think about 30 steps up to the prayer hall.   Living quarters are underneath the raised prayer hall.  Beautiful red stone built in the 1700s and it is currently being repaired as evident by patches of new render around the building.

The main prayer hall for the men

The main prayer hall for the men

The ladies prayer hall

The ladies prayer hall

Decorative minarets.

Decorative minarets.

Pulling away the 3 layers of render, reveals some lovely stonework underneath.  I am hoping whoever pulled away the render, will make the decision to reveal the stonework building wide.

Pulling away the 3 layers of render, reveals some lovely stonework underneath. I am hoping whoever pulled away the render, will make the decision to reveal the stonework building wide.

Entrance to the living quarters.  A few men were sitting around but did not want their photo taken.

Entrance to the living quarters. A few men were sitting around but did not want their photo taken.

Gateway from the raised prayer hall down to the steps to the garden.  I found it a truly peaceful place.  I could have sat and contemplated for hours.

Gateway from the raised prayer hall down to the steps to the garden. I found it a truly peaceful place. I could have sat and contemplated for hours.

The man who let us in, told us our time was up so off we trotted, pulling on our shoes on the road outside.  Walking back along the street, I had to take a photo of the local butcher.  In Nepal you just really see chickens and goats, never a cow – hence my interest!

The butcher shop with a freshly slaughtered cow

The butcher shop with a freshly slaughtered cow

If anyone can tell me what part of the insides is the white/green ball, hanging below from what looks like the liver, I would appreciate it!

If anyone can tell me what part of the insides is the white/green ball, hanging below from what looks like the liver, I would appreciate it!

Postscript:  Ian Johnson tells me it’s probably a gall bladder.  The gallbladder bile and possibly gallstones are used in a variety of health related applications apparently.  Thanks Ian!

And you all know by now where these goats are destined for

And you all know by now where these goats are destined for

A short walk to Lalbagh Fort and it was like entering into an oasis of peace and calm after the hustle and bustle of the streets.  It was also close to midday and I was feeling the heat no doubt.  A beautiful serene place with lovely gardnes built in 1600s, and not yet completed.

A view from the entrance

A view from the entrance

Happy reading about the fort

Happy reading about the fort

The attached mosque that is in use today.  The pink colour is because of the red earth surround the River Bhuriganga that is close by,

The attached mosque that is in use today. The pink colour is because of the red earth surround the River Bhuriganga that is close by,

A kid clambouring over the mosque fence into the fort grounds to retrieve his cricket ball.  Same old all over the world!

A kid clambouring over the mosque fence into the fort grounds to retrieve his cricket ball. Same old all over the world!

Each room of the fort backs onto another room with a view to the far side of the building.  Good to keep the inside cool.  Notice the beautiful painted tiles on the walls.

Each room of the fort backs onto two other rooms with a view to the far side of the building. Good to keep the inside cool. Notice the beautiful painted tiles on the walls.

A few young scholars delighted to get their photo taken, and practice their excellent English with me

A few young scholars delighted to get their photo taken, and practice their excellent English with me

Entrance to the living quarters of the security guards.  Pretty nice digs!

Entrance to the living quarters of the security guards & gardeners. Pretty nice digs!  A minaret of a neighbourhood mosque is in the background

One of the staff preparing lunch for his colleagues

One of the staff preparing lunch for his colleagues

Secret passage from the fort to the River Bhuriganga.  Apparently a dog was sent through the passage a few years back to see if he would get through, but he never came back.  Poor dog.  They think the passage is full of gases and therefore unusable.

Secret passage from the fort to the River Bhuriganga. Apparently a dog was sent through the passage a few years back to see if he would get through, but he never came back. Poor dog. They think the passage is full of gases and therefore unusable.

I had to sit in the shade for a while, it was so hot in the midday sun.  Here I am with Setu the guide.  And Happy is in my bag!

I had to sit in the shade for a while, it was so hot in the midday sun. Here I am with Setu the guide. And Happy is in my bag!

This young man is 16 and visiting the fort.  He had really good English so we chatted for about half an hour while I cooled off.

This young man is 16 and visiting the fort. He had really good English so we chatted for about half an hour while I cooled off.

There was a steady stream of people who came over wanting their photo.  This little girl was shy so Mum had to get in the photo with her.  It is typical to keep little girls hair short during the hot months, in case you are wondering.

There was a steady stream of people who came over wanting their photo. This little girl was shy so Mum had to get in the photo with her. It is typical to keep little girls hair short during the hot months, in case you are wondering.

And this couple had no English at all, but through Setu, were very curious as to who I was and what I was doing in Bangladesh.  I love this photo.

And this couple had no English at all, but through Setu, were very curious as to who I was and what I was doing in Bangladesh. I love this photo.

Lalbagh Fort is apparently a place to meet people of the opposite sex, or to come on a date, which explained the numerous couples I saw, and probably why the young 16-year old was there by himself.  At one point both Setu and he had a discussion about a beautiful young girl with an older man. They decided he was her teacher, not her father or husband.  I have no clue how they came to that conclusion! As the Armenian Church was close by, we walked over and as usual had to seek permission to get through the locked entrance gate. The Armenian Church is just beautiful, recently renovated spearheaded by a Torontonian with Armenian heritage.  This seems to be the norm around the world, where those of Armenian heritage sponsor  Armenian churches worldwide to keep the memory of them.  In Dhaka, there is a very small Armenian community, but it was a burgeoning group of business people in the 17th century.  Andrew, a gentleman I met at Manzoor’s dinner party, told me he and his wife got married in this church some years ago.  They are not of Armenian heritage but just loved the old church and it’s surroundings.  They are originally from the UK and have lived on and off in Dhaka for the past 30 years.  Andrew encouraged me to visit the church if I got a chance, glad I got the chance!

I liked the simplicity of the church, it reminded me of some rural churches I have seen in Ireland, Peru and Mexico.

I liked the simplicity of the church, it reminded me of some rural churches I have seen in Ireland, Peru and Mexico.

The decoration of the pulpit was beautiful.  I suspect this bird means something to the Armenians, but afraid I do not know enough about the heritage to be sure.  Can anyone out there enlighten me?

The decoration of the pulpit was beautiful. I suspect this bird means something to the Armenians, but afraid I do not know enough about the heritage to be sure. Can anyone out there enlighten me?

Postscript:  Another confirmation from Ian, the eagle is the National Bird of Armenia and it appears in the country’s coat of arms, along with the lion. Both were chosen because of their power, courage, patience, wisdom and nobility in the animal kingdom.  Thanks again Ian!  You are always the fountain of knowledge, 

Simple baptismal font

Simple baptismal font

The graveyard surrounds the church grounds.  I must admit to finding cemeteries interesting.  The newer gravestones showed people had died in the early 1900s.  I could not find any gravestones with later death dates.

The graveyard surrounds the church grounds. I must admit to finding cemeteries interesting. The newer gravestones showed people had died in the early 1900s. I could not find any gravestones with later death dates.

We broke for lunch at this point, check out the next posting for the fun I had in the afternoon.  

About Kate Coffey

After 25+ years in the investment management industry, I packed in my job and spent 2014 living and working in Nepal and Bangladesh, and visited some other places in between. It took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and it's people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Sanga foothills. Since 2014, I have continued my warm relationship with SIRC and worked closely with my friends there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes to date. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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